By Alain Jehlen
Less standardized testing, more help for struggling schools—These are the key ingredients of NEA’s 170-page recipe for improving the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was delivered Friday to Congress.
ESEA is the biggest source of federal funds for public schools and includes the Title I program for disadvantaged students.
The law is rewritten and renamed every few years. In its current incarnation, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the law has led to a frenzy of standardized testing, transforming weeks and even months of learning time into test prep in thousands of schools across the country.
NCLB requires standardized testing of all students every year in third through eighth grades and once in high school.
NEA proposes reducing the number of mandated standardized assessments: one in grades four through six, and one in grades seven through nine. Instead of so many standardized tests, the NEA draft calls for assessments designed to improve instruction and student learning. Assessment systems should provide for multiple measures of learning, including measures that assess higher-order thinking skills. NCLB tests have tended to lean heavily on easily scorable multiple-choice questions that stress memory rather than understanding.
NEA proposes that states be allowed to assess high school students through a variety of approaches including end-of-course exams, high school exit tests, and senior projects.
NEA proposed also another radical change in NCLB’s one-size-fits-all formula: Students with disabilities would be assessed on standards based on their individual plans, and English language learners would be assessed in ways that are “valid, reliable, and fair,” taking into account their fluency in English.
The NEA proposals include an array of evidence-based strategies for improving schools that face the biggest challenges, such as:
. Smaller classes, especially in the lower grades and for students from low-income backgrounds and students with special needs;
. Mentoring for new teachers and coaching for at least all core subject teachers;
. Intensive professional development;
. Proven early intervention strategies in math and reading.
Recognizing the critical role of parents and the community in student success, NEA asked for federal support of community-based services and outreach staff.
The Obama administration’s “blueprint” for a revamped ESEA emphasizes more tests and tying teacher evaluations to their students’ scores. The Administration lists four strategies for schools where students score low, including firing the entire faculty. NEA has expressed its opposition to all except the “transformation” model that features collaboration among key stakeholders, noting that the other three have never been shown to help.
The NEA proposals include repeal of the government pension offset and windfall elimination provisions of Social Security law, which reduce the retirement income of educators in some states and make it harder to recruit and retain excellent educators.